After Kickstarter’s Meaghan O’Connell heard the news that I’m publishing my first full-length novel with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, she emailed to ask about the connection to Kickstarter. Back in 2009, I published a book with help from about 600 backers here, so Meaghan wondered: What’s the connection between that book and this one? Did the Kickstarter project help you get published?
The answer is: Yes, it did, and yes, there is a vital connection — but it’s not what you think it is.
One thing you get from a Kickstarter project is, of course, money. You get it straight from your backers, some of whom you know, some of whom you don’t. But, in a certain kind of project, you realize very quickly that they are paying not primarily for whatever rewards you’ve cooked up, but rather for the experience of being a patron and watching you succeed. (I speak here as both a project maker and a project backer.)
This was important to me in the simple sense that, because I could raise some money on Kickstarter, I was able to invest some time and print some books and produce something bigger and richer than a short story.
But money is definitely not the connection between my Kickstarter project and this new one with FSG.
Another thing you get from a Kickstarter project is a posse. Very practically, this means an extremely qualified email list, which is a pretty valuable thing to have. More broadly it means a tangible group of allies—maybe a couple dozen people, maybe a few hundred — that you can call on for help in the future. I’ve written about the power of this posse in the context of my new book.
This was important because, as I shopped my new book around to publishers, I could point to my Kickstarter backers and say: Hey, trust me, at least 600 people will buy my book. That’s more than Snooki!
But I have to be honest: this was nice, but not crucial. It was the icing, not the cake. So the posse’s not the connection, either.
So like, hold on — did this Kickstarter project even help me get published at all?
Yes, and here’s how.
The most important thing I got from Kickstarter was declaration and validation.
Now listen: for other folks, this might not even be an issue. Maybe some people can say Yo I’m a writer from day one—like, you crank out that first short story, freshman year, and BOOM you just feel it in your bones. That wasn’t me. Yes, I was writing, and yes, I wanted to write more, but I didn’t feel like a writer. I felt wishful, dreamy, and vaguely fraudulent. Even at the moment I pressed LAUNCH on my Kickstarter project, I didn’t feel like a writer.
But then, about two weeks, 300 backers, and 4,000 words later, something changed.
A successful Kickstarter project has, I think, two parts. First, there’s declaration, the part where you’re forced to say, out in public—there’s no such thing as a private Kickstarter project!—you’re forced to say very clearly: This is what I am, and this is what I want to do. Then, there’s validation, the part where it flips around and your posse replies, in unison, and again out in public: Yep, sounds about right.
And that’s when you feel like a writer.
So for me, it’s declaration and validation that constitute the connection between Kickstarter pages and bookstore shelves. Without them, I would at this moment still not feel like a writer (ugh) and I would definitely not have been able to take seriously the notion of
a) meeting with agents,
b) working up real ideas for real novels,
c) committing to one of them, and then
d) writing Mr. Penumbra, at my kitchen table, over the course of a year, alone, without the real-time psycho-social support (!) of a Kickstarter project...
...all of which was necessary for me to arrive here, today, and to be working with a super-smart editor on what will be an awesome book that people will find in beautiful bookstores.
Now: there are, and have been, other ways to rig up declaration and validation. Writers since Erasmus have found ways to do it. And I think declaration, in particular, just comes more easily to some people.
But for me, Kickstarter was vital. Kickstarter was the essential machine—think Tesla coils, think blue sparks, think IT’S ALIVE. Forget the money, forget the email list. It was declaration and validation that gave me the oomph to stumble past the Kickstarter project itself, write a full-length novel, and get it picked up by a publisher.
So, in closing: I recommend the Kickstarter machine to you, especially if you are feeling wishful, dreamy, and/or vaguely fraudulent in your own endeavors. This thing is powerful.
And maybe I’ll see you in the 24-hour bookstore.